Friday, June 28, 2013

Full Steam Ahead

A light rain had given the roads and sidewalks a lustrous sheen and the mud puddles reflected our unusual outfits and our decorated bikes as my daughter Jackie and I waited at Sanctuary Curio Shoppe for other SteamPunk enthusiasts to show up.

We waited outside the store for a long while before we decided that we were going to be the only two cyclists to brave the wet streets.  Before we mounted our SteamPunk bikes to begin the ride, we awarded all the prizes to ourselves.  Jackie won a posh set of goggles for having the best dressed up bike and I won the much coveted CITY TV prized pack for best moustache.  I awarded Jackie the valuable Sanctuary gift card for the biggest hair and she presented me with a coupon for sound and light therapy from Golden Lady Wholistics just for showing up.

When we turned onto Whyte Avenue we nearly fell off our bikes in surprise at the crowds that lined both sides of the Avenue to witness the 2013 SteamPunk bike ride.  My face hurt after six blocks of smiling and my right arm began to go numb from waving to the mass of citizens wanting to see us ride.  Jackie was laughing the whole way.

We got a break from the multitudes when we crossed over the High Level Bridge and in my joy, the bridge itself appeared to be hundreds of feet higher as it spanned the glacial blue waters of the North Saskatchewan.

The sidewalks along Jasper Avenue were lined with brightly coloured barricades to keep the throngs of well - wishers in check so that we could pedal our way to City Hall without delay where the Mayor was waiting to hand us the keys to the city and proclaim this day as Edmonton SteamPunk Day.  We had so many ticker tape streamers hanging from us that we looked like Cousin It from the Adams family.

Jackie in her excitement kept ringing the brass bell on her handlebars BURR-RRINGG! BURR-RING!!  The loud sound startled me and when I looked over to her I saw what looked like red digital numbers flickering in her place.  They said 5:30.  Just another work day.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

SteamPunk 2013

My daughter reminded me last night that the SteamPunk bike ride that we are supposed to organize is this coming Tuesday.  “This Tuesday?  I thought it was on Thursday!!  Holy S**T!!” was my response (actually it was a little saltier than that).

This Tuesday?

The news didn’t catch me totally by surprise, I just thought I had more time to design an outfit and fancy up my bike.  Jackie has already arranged with our main sponsor – Sanctuary,  to have their store open for us and to allow us to congregate on their property.  For my part, I’ve convinced our Promotions Coordinator Sarah to put a number of choice CITY TV promotional items into a prize pack for Jackie and me to give away.

For the bike, I’ve chosen Foldey Hawn to be my ride this time.  Last year it was the English Triumph three speed which I decorated with brass candle holders in the shape of trumpets and a gothic looking birdcage with the Stanley Cup trapped inside.  The frame was wrapped in an Alberta road map and I assembled an outfit that was a combination of Clockwork Orange and a bowler-wearing lumberjack.


My own Sir Stanley

After last year’s ride, and inspired by some of the other entrants, I visited a nearby dollar store and bought some weird water guns that I intend to “antique” and strap onto the bike as though they were some sort of atomic energy producing machines.  My company was throwing out old broadcasting equipment so I snagged some circuit boards to randomly attach to the bike.  Guaranteed to be peculiar.

For wardrobe, I have a pith helmet my twin brother sent me after a lot of nagging, a funky army surplus water bottle a dear friend gave me years ago, a tan safari shirt with epaulettes from a thrift store and welding goggles I impulsively grabbed at an auto supply shop.  What I’ll wear below the belt remains to be seen.  Maybe black vinyl pants that Corey at Sanctuary will convince me complement my eccentric and hastily thrown together SteamPunk outfit.  If I’m lucky, she’ll want to take precise measurements of my inseam and maybe lean in close to wrap a tape measure around my waistline and...




Wednesday, June 19, 2013

BikePacking 101

It is Bike Month here in our great city and ten hardy individuals weren't going to let a little rain stop them from attending BikePacking 101. The instructor was an old codger with seemingly lots of BikePacking experience and next to him he had his bike with all the gear a person would need for a unsupported trip.

The audience was equally divided between the sexes and the ages ranged from those in their early twenties to retired individuals. One person rides every day as a bike courier and another is planning to ride across the country. The suggestions they made to the teacher showed that some of them had quite a lot of BikePacking experience and in fact one of them asked where the term "BikePacking" originated?

The tutor explained that BikePacking is simply backpacking on a bike. (The bike wears the pack silly!). Except for the pump, patches, bike tools, cycling shoes, padded shorts and helmet, the equipment is pretty much the same and the gear is stowed in a similar manner to filling a packsac. Pack heavy stuff at the bottom and close to the frame and put items you constantly need in the external pockets.

Like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, the BikePacking coach kept pulling out an limitless amount of interesting provisions from his panniers but the thing I liked best was the elastic netting that could be placed over all the accessories. The strong spider web elastic bands would ensure that nothing falls out. The leader described how his cycling partner lost his tent on a trip and had to squeeze into someone else's two man tent for the rest of the trip. I could then understand the value of having a midget sized one man tent.

Everybody gets their own tent

At the end of the demonstration, the trainer handed out bike themed stickers and it reminded me of a prize my brother and I received for belonging to our church choir. Choir members were rewarded for being the best soloist or best tenor or best harmonist. What do you give two boys who can't sing or hold their attention to the song sheet in front of them? You award them stickers for best attendance.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

I've Made Up My Mind

When it comes to cycling in another country, I want to do as little research as possible.  This way, I have to use all my wits to be able to ride a bike on one of the days when I’m wandering around by myself.

When that day came in Lisbon, I knew that I’d have to get to Belem which was at the completely opposite side of the city from where we were staying.  Oh sure, I could have walked a block down to the Expo 89 site where on our first night we’d discovered a trailer that operated as a bike rental outlet.  But my mind was made up and I didn’t want to be confused with the facts.

Expo 89 site
Getting to the other side of the city involved taking the subway which they call here the Metro, changing lines from the Vermelha (red) to the Azul (blue).  My wits got their first test when I confidently walked up to the turnstile and slapped my green transit pass onto the magnetic reader where it was greeted with a rude buzzer alarm and a red light began to flash signalling my attempt at transit fraud.

From red to blue
Thankfully it was a holiday so there wasn’t going to be a huge backup of commuters wanting to rush down the stairs to the train that could be heard entering the station many floors below us.  The ticket dispensing machine was only a few steps away and I slunk over to it expecting that it would take some time to buy another pass using instructions in a language I did not understand.

With Lisbon being a tourist destination, of course the machine had an English option that could be accessed by touching a Union Jack symbol on the screen.  I did expect that being in English that the instructions would be a garbled translation from Portuguese similar to those instructions we find when we purchase anything made in Asia and the grammar isn’t quite what you'd expect.

Get out of jail free card
It was a good thing that the instructions were clear and I was able to purchase the correct day pass since unbeknownst to me, when I arrived at my destination, I was going to be stopped by a uniformed official.  With his forage cap and military looking uniform, he could very well have been from the DGS (secret police).  But no, he was a transit inspector and since this was a holiday, it was the perfect time to catch fraudsters since there were no huge crowds to disrupt.

He held out his hand for my pass and my relief was great when his handheld device indicated that everything was correct.  Thinking about the encounter when I finally mounted my rental bike, I was glad that I had paid for a transit pass and not jumped the turnstile which would have been easy to do in the empty subway station given that this was a holiday in Lisbon.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Riding A Belem Bike

My guidebook has this to say about finding a bike in an area called Belem (Bethlehem): “This riverside shack is the cheapest place in Lisbon to hire a bicycle for short periods, although you’ll have to get there first...They also do repairs here.”
My "secret"

This is the first time in this maritime city that one of my guidebooks has been totally accurate.  Well very near totally accurate.  Belem Bike is not so much a shack as a sturdily built trailer or it could even be a modified shipping container.
The shack?

Just as the tram I’m riding to this western area slows down for the stop in Belem, what do I see but the very monument that I was going to ride a bike until I found.  If need be, harass the locals.  Show the picture as though I were a detective canvassing a neighbourhood.
The monument at Salted Earth Alley

The Belem bike itself has no brand name and except for a sticky front brake, appears to be in fine shape.  As one guy works on an axle, the other fellow takes my Alberta driver’s license and chucks it into the cash drawer.  I can pay up when I return the bike.  I’m asked if I want a lock and a helmet and I pass on both figuring they will be added charges to what I’m hoping will be a cheap ride.
Brandless bike

Since one of my objectives has been met so readily, I decide to cruise down the riverside path towards a large military gathering where judging from the police presence and the fact that there is a navy ship and a group of frogmen sitting in a zodiac behind the meeting place – someone of importance must be making an appearance.
Waiting for someone important

I easily become bored waiting for Mr. Important and push the bike up a walkway over a busy train track.  Someone has thoughtfully welded a ramp for bikes which makes the whole enterprise a safe and easy way to get past the trains.  I end up back at Salted Earth Alley to photograph the monument and when I see the huge crowd outside the famous pastry shop, I decide to keep the money I’ve saved on the bike rental and skip the baked goods. Besides, I was too cheap to rent a lock and I don't like custard anyway.
Thank you welder!



Sunday, June 9, 2013

Bike Day

Tomorrow my wife goes to work so I have the whole day to find a bike and ride around this old city.  My plan is to go to the western area (near where famous explorers departed for distant lands), find the bike shack and ride a 20 km. section of bike paths along the River Tagus which Lisboans pronounce as Tie - Oosh.
Where explorers departed

We met a local named Galan who had a striking resemblance to Bilbo Baggins and he suggested that I ride a bus to Costa Caparica where the Atlantic beaches are lined with bike trails. It all sounds great as we stand talking to him under the monstrous statue of Jesus Christ that dominates the south bank of the river.

Galan look-alike

But I have a plan in mind - I'm determined to find an obscure statue that our Secret Guidebook states is behind a famous bakery.  We visited the landmark yesterday but couldn't get near because of the crowds.  The statue is in "Salted Earth Alley" supposedly behind the bakery and I figure that on a bike, I'll stand a better chance of finding this spot that eluded us while on foot.  I'll stop local residents and show them the picture in the guidebook and they'll point to where I need to ride.  In theory anyway.
Elusive statue
If all else fails and there are no bikes to be had or the locals run screaming from my open guidebook, I know that I can always pop into the bakery and have one of those famous custard tarts.  It will be a Monday morning and most of the locals will be heading off to work while I play!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Here In Lisboa

Here in Lisboa, I wanted to see people on their bikes and riding a hop-on, hop-off tour bus was an excellent method of covering the whole city and watching cyclists in their element.

The cobbled streets

In spite of the negative advice given by our guidebook, I saw many people riding their mountain bikes, folding bikes and road bikes on the cobbled streets, across the slippery tram rails and alongside bad drivers (laying on the horn is quite accepted).
In the older section of town

Like other cities that have paths along the waterfront (Toronto comes to mind), I expected a phalanx of cyclists yet there were way more people jogging the route than cycling the river trails. 
Suburban joggers

In fairness, the joggers were running in a suburban area but when we were ambling about in the older, historic areas, that’s when we came across most cyclists.  Some were togged out in Spandex but most were wearing street clothes and one lady was pumping away in her stilettos, holding her stylish black dress in a modest fashion.
Not the stylish lady mentioned above

With the fine weather and the up and down San Francisco-like hills, who could blame the cyclists for wanting to pedal their way through the most interesting part of this fine city?

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Cheap Cyclist

An item in one of the Lisbon guidebooks mentions free bike rentals (an oxymoron?) available on a first come first serve basis.  Apparently there is a dilapidated shack on the waterfront that offers free bikes but it all sounds rather sketchy.  All the more reason to check it out.
Looks safe to me - even fun!

In the section of the guidebook that refers to getting around, here's what it says about cycling: "Lisbon's streets are unfriendly to cyclists, with cobbles, tyre-trapping tram lines and bad driving." Just like in London, I'll probably play it safe and cycle through parks and along boardwalks.  My co-workers need me too much for me to risk harm to myself and God forbid miss some work!

Damn tram rails!

On the first day that my wife is scheduled to work, I'll get up early to make sure she is up and has the bathroom all to herself so she can be ready to have breakfast and have plenty of time to eat it before her meetings.  Once she's out the door, I'll be racing down to the waterside shack to get one of those free bikes maybe even push some dawdlers out of the way and then I can bike my way to new and cheap, interesting adventures.  What we call pootling and the Lisbon guidebook describes as "Pootering".

Bumpity bump on the cobbles